Jack LaLanne, the he-man before it was cool to be a he-man has died. He was pre-Schwartznegger, pre-Joe Weider. He was the guy who got all the average joe’s to get in shape. Lalanne started by opening a fitness club in Oakland in 1936, a time when it wasn’t considered proper for men and women to exercise. He later opened up another one in the old Stonestown Mall. Those who remember that mall will remember the stairway down in the center courtyard area with the black wrought iron hand rails and the dark red striped velvet and satin wall paper [that my mother always referred to as whorehouse wallpaper].
The San Francisco fitness center opened up after he landed a gig at KGO-TV doing a morning fitness show. It was an early morning show I suppose to get people pumped up to go to work in the mornings. My mother watched him religiously and even got me into the show and had me exercising before I’d walk off to school. When the fitness center opened in SF my mom had to go because Jack was going to be there for the grand opening. Looking back, I think it would have been easy to meet Jack if you just drove over to his Oakland gym, but it was more convenient to hop in your station wagon for the five minute drive over to Stonestown. We got there and there was Jack in his jump suit and ballet slippers [how can a guy look macho in a jump suit and ballet slippers?] Flexing and mugging for the cameras. Then we all got to meet Jack and shake his hand and get a autographed photo of him. I wish I still had that photo now. It’d probably be worth something.
He was a great pitch man for fitness and while he could have turned into a product mill for thousands of products he only had one, The Jack LaLanne Power Juicer. To hear him talk about this you’d think it was the fountain of youth. My mom even bought one and I remember for a few months we enjoyed fresh squeezed juice with our breakfasts until she started to mix carrots and zucchini into my orange juice. I am still scarred to this day about drinking carrot juice because of that incident of which I will speak no further.
It turns out he went a little bit farther in his later years by writing a few books promoting healthy eating and exercise. He even has a website and a blog that his last post was on the 20th of this month only a few days before he passed. I found a few recent pictures of him and I have to say for guy who was 96 he looked like he was in his early 60’s. As a matter of fact to celebrate his 60th birthday he swam from Alcatraz to San Francisco while shackled AND towing a boat with camera men filming him. Something no convict had ever attempted. He became a national figure, but he was always a part of the Bay Area. Now if I had only listened to him better when I shook his hand and he told me, “Now you listen to your Uncle Jack, exercise, eat healthy and don’t smoke!” OK, I got two of the three at least. I’m thinking though that his shot of brandy he enjoyed every night helped him add a few years.